He is resilient, hard-working, a game changer and consistent. Tewa Onasanya had a sit down with Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, the Lagos state gubernatorial candidate of the APC party.
I met BOS as he is now being called about 14 years ago and over time, he has proved to be a man true to his words, which can be seen in the way he has worked himself up from the banking industry through to public service and now, the APC and people’s chosen one.
Interested to know what his grand plan for a greater Lagos is, especially for the fashion, entertainment, tourism industries, the economy, education, and the traffic issues in Lagos, I had a few minutes of Q and A session with him to elaborate further.
Tewa Onasanya: Please tell us in details what the agenda for Lagos State is?
Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu : Broadly speaking, my agenda is designed to make Lagos Greater. We will run an inclusive government that will work for every Lagosian. Our agenda is hinged on 5 Pillars of Development (PoD), with the acronym THEME, which stands for Transportation & Traffic Management, Health & Environment, Education & Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, and Entertainment & Tourism.
These represent the vocal points of our policy thrust and exemplify the focus areas of our government. I also need to let you know that the areas earmarked for nurturing were identified with the people. Our agenda is a product of consultations with multiple stakeholders across the state, and commissioned survey.
As Africa’s 5th largest economy and opportunity-rich state, governance in Lagos needs to be methodical and purposeful to keep the pace of the development in the State. Our government will work assiduously to accelerate the development of Lagos State through critical investment in the 5 focused areas. We will create a multimodal transport system that will make intra-state transportation easy and effective, bring a creative and intelligent solution to traffic management, provide affordable and accessible healthcare by improving the quality of health facilities in the state, deploy an effective and structured approach to waste management.
Given our awareness of the central role of education and technology to socio-economic transformation, we will make a huge investment in education and leverage technology to take the state. Even, technology will become a critical aspect of our educational system because coding will be taught to pupils in public schools across the state, and infrastructure will be upgraded to make the schools conducive for learning.
More importantly, making Lagos the 21st-century economy is a major item on our Greater Lagos plan. We will revise and simplify governance processes, and collaborate extensively with the private sector, and other stakeholders to build a Lagos of our dream.
This also means that we will sustain the current wave of infrastructural revolution, and strengthen the state security arrangement, such that our envisioned Lagos, which will become the renowned tourist destination and center of cultural excellence, will not have any security challenges.
The THEME agenda is a multi-layered action-plan that will make a positive and meaningful impact on every facet of our lives as Lagosians. We are going to run a solution-oriented government.
TO: Which would you prioritize and how would you choose which the one to prioritize?
BOS: As I said earlier, THEME is the acronym for our agenda and its elements were derived from consultations and engagements with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including insights gained from commissioned surveys.
The structure of the fact-finding exercises also underscored the pressure point and areas importance according to the importance Lagosians ascribed to them. So, because Transportation & Traffic Management is the most pressing issue Lagosians want the government to address.
Clearly, the priority of the people automatically becomes the priority of the government. Transportation and Traffic Management is the most important and pressing need of the people. That’s why the acronym of our policy agenda, ‘THEME’ is preceded by ‘T’. Other elements like ‘H’, which represents Health & Environment, ‘E’ – Education & Technology, ‘M’ – Making Lagos the 21st Economy, and ‘E’, which is Entertainment & Tourism, are also slated for immediate attention.
So, on the scale of needs, Lagosians have listed traffic management as a very serious issue, but this is a low-hanging fruit our government will easily pluck. Preparative to addressing the problem, we commissioned a study on traffic hot-spots in Lagos, and the feedback revealed that there are over 60 points, where traffic gridlock is always very bad. Now, we identified the locations, and efforts at creatively identifying the causes of gridlock those locations are intensified.
Already, we have seen that in some places, the location of fuel stations is one of the causes of the problem. In other areas, offices and commercial buildings without parking spaces are contributors to the jams. Quick Service Restaurants, where vehicles are reversing-out of car parks also contribute to roadblocks. But bad roads have come out as the major contributor to gridlocks in Lagos State.
With these insights, we are looking at the locations case-by-case and designing workable solutions that will bring relief to road users. Some of the traffic management experts we are working with have methodically looked into the issues and came up with smart solutions, including the need to reduce the big roundabouts in some areas.
Part of the solution could also be, for example, in the morning, during rush hours, you see places where traffic is moving on one side and not moving on the other side. A smart solution is to look at how we can extend some of the free lanes in the morning and in the evening reverse same into another lane. This means that in the morning, we turn a 4-lane road into a 6-lane, and reverse the order in the evening because the pressure point has changed. People are going back home from work and other places they drove to in the morning.
See, simple solutions like directing traffic to the free lanes to decongest our roads as quickly as possible, especially in the evening, during rush hours, could reduce travel time and enhance our productivity. Even, there are health benefits to effective traffic management, so it’s a major point of consideration for our government.
We also have people issues to deal with. I mean behavioral issues that we need to address. Many of our people do not understand that they are not the only road users. People must drive responsibly, and need to respect the right of other road users. We need to take some of these messages back home to educate ourselves. People must know that the same right they have to our roads is the same right others have. We must respect ourselves on the roads. Appropriate road use conducts can contribute significantly to removing congestions from our roads.
Similarly, traffic signs and traffic lights must be obeyed. It is only when we do the little things we need to do as citizens that we can solve some of our problems, including the gridlocks on our roads. People should not drive against traffic when there is no need to do so, or when not directed to do so by traffic management officers.
I need to also say clearly that we will bring increased efficiency to traffic management in the state. LASTMA officers will be retrained, and where there is a need for recruitment of more officers, we will do that. We will do a lot of enlightenment campaign around the issues while working on implementable solutions. Every challenge will get a bespoke solution.
Our focus is beyond just road travels within the state. We are thinking about a multimodal transportation system befitting a megacity state like Lagos. A 3rd of Lagos is water. That suggests that we have a huge water transportation opportunity and alternative. The waterways need to be properly mapped to help navigation.
Where we have a water body that needs to be dredged to allow boats to move well, we will do. I am aware that one of the problems with water transportation in Lagos is lack of investment, and operators are not willing to invest because of poor returns. The operators complain of poor patronage. When they take people from Ikorodu to Island in the morning, they return the boat empty without passengers because fewer people go towards the area in the morning. We will have to look at how we can help them solve that problem, such that the venture becomes profitable and water transport more efficient.
We also have the rail projects that we need to complete, especially the Blueline from Okokomaiko to CMS. We need to complete the track and bring the rolling stock to get it operational. It is about funding. We will find a way to complete that rail project. Lagos needs a transportation system outside the roads that can move thousands of people daily.
As we continue to engage on the expansion of our BRT corridors, develop water transportation and deal with the road issues, I believe we will be able to address the problem of traffic gridlock in Lagos. It is worth emphasizing too, that there is no mega city like Lagos, where traffic challenges are eliminated completely. In cities like New York, Chicago, Cairo etc., where they have a better public transportation system, they still have traffic issues. It is just that people know the traffic hours, which is usually the rush hours in the morning and evening, and plan their journeys accordingly. We are making progress as a state, and we will continue to work at it.
TO: Lagos is the business and entertainment hub of Nigeria, how would this be improved on and made attractive to potential investors in our tourism and entertainment and the creatives themselves?
BOS: The place of Lagos as a prime commercial and entertainment destination in Africa is incontestable. This enviable status has also put Lagos in focus, and necessitated a consistent upgrade of infrastructure, review of government policies and entrenched processes that will create an enabling environment for businesses and encourage collaboration between the private and public sectors.
Our job is cut-out for us. We plan to run a government that will enable full optimization of the economic potentials of Lagos State. We strengthen existing public-private sector collaboration model and open the state up for investment. As a purpose-driven government, we have defined areas of critical interventions as shown in the THEME agenda, and Entertainment & Tourism are critical elements of the agenda. We will invest in the sector and related sectors. Our government will make policies that will accelerate the development of the sector, and go into purposeful collaborations to offer the global stage to our people. I make bold to say that Lagos is the home of talents, and the state will be better off systematically projecting this to the international community. Beyond entertainment and tourism, fashion and beauty will be big on our plan. We are exploring the potentials of these outlets to make Lagos the destination of choice.
TO: Free internet for all, what is the plan to sustain this?
BOS: The defining role of technology in modern societies cannot be understated. The internet is one of the most revolutionary outputs of the technological revolution, and it has contributed significantly to bridging the gaps between the developed and not-so-developed nations of the world. Our awareness of the centrality technology to the Lagos of our dreams has made collaboration with telecommunication companies, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and investors in the technology space a subject of critical consideration.
We will grant right of way to telcos to lay their pipes. Our government will establish purposeful agreements with them for the public good. With free internet across Lagos, our youths will become more empowered and have increased access to knowledge. Different aspects of our lives will be positively impacted by the easy and smooth exchange access to the internet will facilitate. This is also one of the reasons for deploying Sanwo Free Wi-Fi to some locations and institutions across Lagos.
TO: The fashion and beauty industry is worth over $500b in Sub-Saharan Africa, how can we harness the strength of and export our home brands which are of great quality?
BOS: We will do so much to promote the beauty and fashion industry. Lagos is acquiring a reputation as a center of excellence in beauty and fashion and this must be sustained through deliberate government support. As a government that is committed to developing the local economy, we will ensure our policies and investments support the growth of the industry. Most operators in this space fall under the SMEs and will require funding supports and concessions for them to compete favorably. We will collaborate with operators to organize fairs and exhibitions that will serve as platforms for showing the sectors to the relevant markets and audiences across the globe.
TO: Can we have more information on how opportunities will be given to entrepreneurs and SME’s to thrive in Lagos state?
BOS: I am particularly passionate about the private sector and its unique role as a driver of economic growth. I have since realized that government alone cannot make an economy successful. The efficiency of any economy is a shared responsibility between the private sector and government. Both are agents with complementary roles in social prosperity creation. Interestingly, Lagos has benefited significantly from private sector contributions and these are evident in numerous landmark projects and infrastructure.
Seriously, private sector commercial activities are major contributors to the status of Lagos as the 5th largest economy in Africa. We will build on this trend by supporting the birth of new businesses and the growth of the existing ones. Pointedly, we have listed “Making Lagos the 21st-century economy” as one of the major areas of focus for our administration. This means that we will be rolling out policies that will create an enabling environment for businesses. Government processes will be reviewed to allow commerce and innovative industries thrive.
Specifically, we will increase support for MSMEs by providing access to financing options outside of the traditional financial institutions through the LSETF; and by simplifying and harmonizing the process of property titling, such that titles can be readily available to MSMEs as collateral for accessing credit.
As a government, we will reduce regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles by simplifying the licensing and approval procedures for businesses; and accelerate the development and deployment of critical public infrastructure to better improve the productivity of the private sector through the provision of stable power supply; an efficient and effective multi-modal transport infrastructure and a solid traffic management system.
TO: On tourism, Exquisite magazine organized an event in 2007, where we brought in tour operators from the UK to tour parts of Lagos, so they can help sell the sights to holidaymakers from England. The feedback we got was that some of our top selling tourism assets were not well developed. These have improved somewhat since then, but still a need for great improvement. Is there a timeline to develop our tourism assets in Lagos start, to create an enabling environment to support tourism and promoting tourism to the outside world, sooner?
BOS: This is yet again another interesting question because Lagos state has a long and rich history of cultural heritage; and being a city of aquatic splendor with over a dozen beaches and resorts for relaxation and recreation, it, therefore, becomes important that we continue to position the state as a premium tourist destination. Against this background, we have identified the entertainment and tourism industries as key economic sectors for rapid improvement and development in our manifesto.
We will be looking to unlock the huge potential in these sectors by expanding opportunities for participants to further grow and develop their fields of interests. With respect to this sector, our government will be focusing on restoration of historic and cultural sites; calendarization of annual cultural events within Lagos state; creation of new sites to attract local and international tourists; and working with both local and foreign investors to bridge the demand gap for additional tourist sites and amusement parks.
TO: There is this belief that the number of women in the government needs to be increased, what are the plans for an all-inclusive government that will include women?
BOS: Our government will work with women. We cannot afford not having women duly represented in our government because of their unique qualities and uncommon expertise. Women do extremely well in the position of authority and are extremely reliable. And this view is further validated by a noticeable increase in the number of women in governance and politics across the world.
Beyond politics and governance, women are social stabilizers and active agents of socio-economic development. So, it is only wise that our government has a high number of competent and exemplary women to enable speedy and easy delivery of our promises.
TO: Housing. There are a lot of homeless people on the streets of Lagos, high rent compared to minimum earnings, what is the plan for the housing issue in Lagos state?
BOS: At the very forefront of our minds and also underpinning our manifesto is the need to ensure that the vulnerable segment of the population is protected, and are able to afford the basic needs of life. Shelter is on one of these basic needs and every citizen of Lagos; irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion or creed has the right to shelter.
However, as we talk about the vulnerable class of citizens requiring government assistance with shelter, we are also looking at the macro-economic environment and policies that will help to stimulate economic activities and opportunities for these class of persons so that they can make that transition back into mainstream society.
I should also mention here that changing the trajectory of homelessness will require a collaborative effort between the private sector and the state government to develop training and rehabilitation facilities that will assist these vulnerable persons with the required access to basic living and work-ready tools.
Finally, on our own part, we are committed to increasing funding for affordable housing units and investing in homeownership assistance through the Lagos HOMs program.
TO: We recognize that affordable homes are being developed for salary earners to get on the property ladder, but, what about the less privileged?
BOS: As I mentioned earlier, housing is a critical issue that we intend to look at in our immediate-to-medium term vision/plan for Lagos state. We are committed to implementing a set of alternative options that will make available low-priced land to the less privileged; as well as partnering with the private sector and the federal government to provide affordable housing finance options.
TO: Education. There are a lot of children who are of primary school age, who stay home or help their parents to hawk on the streets during school hours. Is it possible to have some measure in place in Lagos state, which mandates that all children up to a certain age must be in school during school hours?
BOS: In 2015, the Lagos State Government instituted the Lagos State Inclusive Education Policy to address issues such as out-of-school children. In line with this, our manifesto has highlighted plans to strengthen School-Based Management Committees (SBMC) in all communities to address such issues by providing a support network for parents and children and serving as counselors and advocates for the education of all children. We will also go a step further by ramping up our empowerment programs for women in the poorest households through the provision of soft loans and skills acquisition to enable their children to enroll in schools and ensure that no child is left behind.
TO: On health, so many women are dying from cervical cancer, a form of cancer that is 100% preventable, what aid can Lagos state under your leadership, offer its citizens and health care providers to help reduce these number of deaths through preventative methods of screening and vaccination.
BOS: Over the years, Lagos State government has partnered with the private sector, NGOs and development partners to provide free screening and vaccination programmes for cervical cancer for women in Lagos. In line with our collaborative approach to governance, we will expand these partnerships to increase coverage for all women in Lagos through the recently launched Lagos Health Insurance Scheme. We will also refurbish the screening centers in Badagry, Ikorodu, Epe and Orile – Agege General Hospitals to provide world-class cancer screening services. Our plan is to upgrade our treatment centers for cancer management and chemotherapy with the necessary equipment and infrastructure to reduce cancer morbidity and mortality in Lagos.
TO: Final word for Lagosians before March the 9th and assurance for the next four year as our man for the job.
BOS: I am aware of the enormous task that lies ahead in a quest to create a ‘liveable city’ and provide economic opportunities for each member of our ever-growing population. I have been at the forefront of policy development for Lagos State for over 15 years. I’ve learnt invaluable lessons from our successes and the failures, and now well-positioned to demonstrate my expertise by creating transformational programs to hasten the pace of development in Lagos State. I pledge to all Lagosians that my government will be driven by one key principle – “to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people in Lagos”. I hereby present myself as a capable, competent and tested hand and look forward to working with all Nigerians to make Lagos Greater.